Stimulants are drugs that an individual can use to boost day-to-day bodily functions and give the body enough energy for optimal functioning. However, overuse can cause adverse effects.

These drugs will increase your heart rate, blood sugar, and blood pressure, giving your body a head start and a significant boost in alertness and energy. This effect will make you feel more alert and focused, but overuse can have the opposite effect.

Stimulants are most commonly used to treat conditions such as ADHD, ADD, depression, and narcolepsy. Read more about the effects of stimulants on the brain and body here.

They are occasionally used to treat disorders such as asthma and obesity.

Examples of these stimulants include dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine, Dextrostat, ProCentra). Lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse), methylphenidate (Concerta, Daytrana, Methylin, Ritalin), and a mix of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine (Adderall).

Stimulants can be highly addictive and potentially impact the way that your brain and body function. Just like any other drug, these stimulants are highly addictive and can have serious side effects that affect the body in more ways than one.

Here is a list of the most common legal and illegal stimulants and how they can impact the brain and body.

1. Cocaine

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Cocaine, otherwise known as ‘coke’ or ‘blow,’ is often found in a crystal or powder form. Users tend to snort, smoke, or inject this drug into their system for a temporary high. This drug blocks the dopamine transporter responsible for recycling dopamine once it has sent any signals to the brain cells.

It is forcing dopamine to build up in the gap between the neurons and floods the synapse. This process results in an overstimulation of the neurons and a powerful sense of euphoria for the user. These euphoric feeling comes with plenty of risks and can lead to some severe health complications such as;

  • Uneven heart rate and increased speed can lead to a heart attack
  • Constricted blood vessels, forcing the heart to work harder to pump blood
  • Difficulty breathing and chest pains
  • Increased body temperature
  • Snorting cocaine can lead to intense nosebleeds and a loss of sense of smell, and difficulty swallowing.
  • Irritability, restlessness, panic attacks, and paranoia

2. Prescription Stimulants

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Prescribed stimulants are often used to treat ADHD, ADD, depression, and narcolepsy. Methylphenidate is the most common form of this drug and can be found in most of the medications used to treat these conditions. Like all other stimulants, these drugs increase dopamine levels in the brain.

When used following the doctor’s prescriptions, these drugs help patients focus more, increase their energy levels and remain more alert. When taken in higher doses than prescribed, they tend to have more harmful effects. These effects can lead to severe addiction and cause several complications such as;

  • Increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and excessive sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite leading to malnutrition
  • Panic attacks, depression, and anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Slurred speech

3. Methamphetamine

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Methamphetamine, known as ‘meth,’ often comes in crystal form and can be snorted, injected, or smoked. This drug creates the same euphoric feeling as most other drugs but tends to stay in the system longer.

The effect on the dopamine transporters and increased energy can have harmful effects on the CNS and lead to permanent damage if used regularly. These effects include;

  • Uneven and rapid heartbeat increased blood pressure.
  • Increase in chances of heart attack
  • Rise in body temperature, causing liver, kidney, and cardiovascular failure in extreme cases.
  • Gum and tooth decay is known as ‘meth mouth.’
  • The drug causes changes in the brain structure related to storing memories and controlling emotions, leading to erratic behavior and memory loss.
  • Abuse causes paranoia, hallucinations, and violent outbursts.

4. Nicotine

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Nicotine is an underrated stimulant that most people tend to overlook when thinking of harmful stimulant use. This stimulant is a highly addictive stimulant found in cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Nicotine increases dopamine in the brain and stimulates the body’s adrenal glands, releasing more epinephrine(adrenaline) than needed.

Adrenaline is released when the person is experiencing a stressful situation and significantly affects the Central Nervous System, heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure—causing the body to think it is stressed. When left unchecked, too much adrenaline can lead to various health complications and is considered bad for your mental health.

  • Nicotine increases heart rate and blood pressure
  • Increases blood sugar levels
  • Can cause teeth discoloration and decay
  • It can lead to cancer of the lungs, mouth, and throat

Short and Long Term Effects of Abuse

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While it’s good to recognize the physical effects of stimulant abuse, it’s also good to look at the short and long-term physiological consequences. Short-term effects can include the following:

  • The feeling of intense happiness or highs, followed by dramatic lows
  • Appetite suppression will eventually spoil any pleasure derived from food
  • Increased sexual desire and performance in the short term
  • Increased sociability and self-esteem can lead to a dramatic fall in both after a while
  • Initial Improved attention and focusing abilities followed by a lack of those qualities

Apart from the list of specific problems listed under each stimulant, the general long-term physical effects of stimulant abuse can include the following:

  • Headaches and seizures
  • Weight loss, sometimes extreme uncontrollable weight loss
  • Muscle deterioration, stroke, and cerebral hemorrhage
  • Stomach and intestinal problems
  • Heart and cardiovascular problems
  • Extreme tiredness leading to chronic exhaustion
  • Breathing problems and sexual dysfunction

Patients can use some stimulants to ease the symptoms of specific disorders and are always prescribed safely and in the correct dosage, like all other drugs; when misused and in higher dosages, they can lead to various brain and body complications. Knowing these drugs and the risks involved is very important if you consider taking a stimulant for both health and recreational scenarios.

There are many more addictive stimulants not noted here; this list is an example of the most commonly used. For example, coffee, chocolate, and even some teas all have caffeine in them. However, caffeine, while a stimulant, is widely accepted as ‘safe’ and even good for you in small amounts.

Society views some stimulants as less dangerous than others and may lead users of unhealthy substances to believe they are not putting their life at risk. Whether it’s coffee or cocaine, any habit becomes a problem you can’t carry out in your day-to-day life without it.

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